A staggering 64.5 million adults volunteered just under 8 billion hours of service worth an estimated value of $175 billion in just one year, according to figures shared by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University. And while the incredible philanthropism of Americans is worthy of applause, nonprofits can’t afford to become complacent. Why not? Because there are more than 1.5 million charitable organizations in the United States, according to The Urban Institute at the National Center for Charitable Statistics. Fail to properly recruit and manage volunteers for your nonprofit, and you risk losing them to another organization. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of best practices aimed at helping you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to volunteer management, along with one vital part of the volunteer engagement equation.
1. Know and share your vision.
We all have busy schedules, extensive commitments and demanding lives. In other words, no one volunteers merely for the sake of volunteering. So what motivates people to decide to go the extra mile and add their efforts to your cause? The answer is surprisingly simple: Purpose.
Not only should every member of your professional team be aware of your organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan, but all volunteer activities must be keenly aligned with these goals. Says VolunteerMatch.org, “When volunteers know their work is integral to the mission, they are more apt to feel truly part of the team, which builds a stronger commitment to your organization.”
2. Manage expectations.
No one likes being ambushed with the unexpected—let alone someone volunteering their time and energy for a cause. However, there are several things nonprofits can do to make sure volunteers understand what is expected of them, including providing clearly detailed descriptions and instructions, starting small, and keeping the workload manageable. Providing opportunities for volunteers to increase their involvement and/or take on new roles as they go can also increase buy-in.
Conversely, giving volunteers the opportunity to cut back on their hours and/or say “no” if they’re feeling overextended can be an effective long-term retention tactic.
3. Give—and seek—feedback.
We’ve already covered that volunteers want to feel that they’re making a difference. One simple way to show that their voices matter? Ask for their feedback. From exit interviews to focus groups to volunteer surveys, soliciting volunteer feedback is more than a mere pat on the back, it’s also an opportunity for organizational improvement. However, getting feedback is only part of the equation. Also essential? Delivering a prompt and thoughtful response.
It’s not just about getting feedback, but also about giving it, too. Commit to regularly sharing with your volunteers news about your progress as well as the pivotal role of volunteers in your success. Informing them about upcoming events, fundraisers, and opportunities for volunteering, meanwhile, can help keep them engaged.
Why Communication Counts
You may have noticed one overarching theme across these three volunteer management best practices: The critical role played by communication in nurturing and growing your non-profit’s relationship with your volunteers. By communicating regularly with your volunteers, you help them see that their efforts are appreciated and having an impact. Conversely, if things don’t go as planned and a problem occurs, a swift and comprehensive response is the best form of damage control.
But creating an effective volunteer communication strategy can be harder than it sounds. Do too little and you risk underwhelming your volunteers. Go overboard, meanwhile, and you risk estranging them.
But that’s far from the only obstacle to compelling communications. The American commitment to volunteering spans generations with teens, Gen Xers, and the 65-and-over set all exemplifying noteworthy levels of volunteering, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service. While this diversity is remarkable, it also highlights the need for a targeted, interactive approach. After all, the optimal communication strategy for increasing participation among teenagers is likely to vary wildly from the optimal communication strategy for increasing participation among those teenagers’ grandparents.
The takeaway? A multimodal approach—comprising the spectrum of possible communication channels, from phone calls and text messaging to email and social—is essential if your aim is not just to go through the motions, but to truly connect. While this can seem discouragingly complex, today’s sophisticated automated messaging services make it easier than ever to target messages to the right contacts. Additional features like real-time polling, message customization, hot transfer, quota calling, and multilingual capabilities amplify the ways an automated notification system can help you truly build relationships and enhance volunteer engagement.
The spirit of volunteerism is alive and well in the US, but are you doing your part to keep it that way within your own organization? Click here to learn more about how One Call Now can be an invaluable part of your volunteer recruitment and management strategies.